Several years ago, I experienced what felt like the beginning of a panic attack. I was in my colleague’s car on my way home from one of my externships when suddenly I felt overwhelmingly despondent, my chest became constricted – like an enormous boulder was in my throat – and it was hard to breathe.
Instead of drawing attention to myself, I did what I would have told one of my clients in therapy to do in a similar situation: relax and breathe deeply. I did so without alerting my colleague and eventually the wave of panic subsided. I got home that day without giving any more thought to what had occurred – until it happened again the following day. I realized then that something was probably happening subconsciously that I should address. I was right.
The field of psychology is simultaneously rewarding and intimidating. Disappointingly, the latter trait seems not to be openly discussed. However, this is important because a psychology graduate’s perception of their own competence correlates with their ability to perform well as future employees. Of course, much of what is learned in university becomes engrained only with practice, but that realization sometimes become apparent only in hindsight to those graduates who manage to push through the discomfort of underdeveloped skills.
It is valuable for psychology graduates and interns to know two things: implementing the knowledge and skills learned during their degree programme can only really happen over time through trial and error combined with mentorship; and, effective client-clinician relationships are formed when clinicians find and practice within his or her own system of being present with clients in the therapeutic space, not by following some sort of blueprint.
These things are practical information that students in psychology should be provided with through mentorship during their studies and could be incorporated into the assessment of academic performance provided by study advisors or thesis supervisors.
How many students with promising careers in psychology manage to endure the disillusionment that comes with feeling inexperienced and insecure after graduation? Thankfully, I received the post-graduation therapy I needed from my externship supervisor and was able to dispel the myths and frustrations lingering in my subconscious. The onus is on academic institutions providing training in psychology to incorporate effective mentoring relationships within their study programmes that gives psychologists-in-training practical guidance in their field of study.